Canadian Doctors Can Now Prescribe a Visit to an Art Museum

The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts teamed up with a physicians' association for a social prescription for art.


(Baker Jarvis /

People go to the doctor when they are sick, and expect to receive a prescription that they bring to the pharmacy to fill. Now, a group of Canadian physicians is writing a radically different type of prescription: a trip to the museum.

The prestigious Montreal Museum of Fine Arts (MMFA) and the Médecins Francophones du Canada association (MFdC) launched a pilot project in November 2018 to prescribe a trip to the museum instead of conventional medications.

Each prescription entitles up to two adults and two children free admission to the museum, visit an exhibition, or join a guided tour. According to Fortune, doctors have already written over 185 prescriptions. A single ticket normally costs $31.

Every participating physician was given an official pad with 50 slips that they give out at their discretion. According to the association, a trip to the museum could benefit people who suffer from mental health disorders like depression to patients with Alzheimer's or even heart conditions.

"It's so rare in medicine that you prescribe something, and you do not need to worry about all those side-effects or interactions with other medications," Dr. Hélène Boyer, vice-president of Médecins francophones du Canada told CBC Canada News.

The museum has a full-time art therapist, Stephen Legari, on staff who holds creative workshops for people with chronic illnesses. Legari was invited to attend the conference to exhibit works that were created in art therapy sessions at the museum.

The physicians found the work to be very moving. “It was very touching,” said Boyer in the association's press release. She saw this as a way to connect to patients on a more emotional level. “We always ask ourselves: What more can I do? From now on, we can at least offer a moment of happiness.

"The museum's director general and chief curator Nathalie Bondil made the pitch to collaborate with the association at the conference. "We know that art stimulates neural activity," she told CBC Canada News.

"What we see is that the fact that you are in contact with culture, with art, can really help your well-being."But what is the most important, she said, "is to have this experience which is to help them escape from their own pain."

Doctors will follow up with their patients to assess if there was any change in their conditions after the museum visit. The pilot will run for one year, and a report will be prepared with the cumulative findings. The museum is already involved in 10 clinical trials that are assessing the impact of art on health.

A similar initiative for free admission with a physician's referral was launched at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto in December 2018. Prescriptions for music and art or taking nature walks as preventative health care is part of a growing social prescription movement that began in the UK.

The UK's health minister Matt Hancock said in a speech in November 2018 that "it’s scientifically proven. Access to the arts and social activities improves people’s mental and physical health. It makes us happier and healthier." He said he wanted to talk about how the UK can harness the incredible healing power of the arts and social activities to improve people's health and wellbeing.

The Japanese have known the positive effects of nature on health and use forest bathing as a health tonic and has been part of the Japanese public health program since 1982.

Legari told Fortune that he hopes the MMFA’s one-year pilot project will become more widely available with more opportunities for therapeutic visits and longer-term alliances with physicians and patients.

People are used to taking pills for whatever ails them when what they may be really lacking is social contact, mental stimulation, or relaxation. Social prescriptions could give people exactly what they need. After all, people are more likely to go to a museum, concert or birdwatching if its doctor's orders.

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